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7 Causes of Dark Circles Under Eyes, According to Dermatologists

Find out what else could be causing those bags under your eyes than a lack of sleep.

Table of Contents

UV Light Exposure is one of the seven causes of dark under-eye circles.

UV radiation exposure is frequently linked to true pigment (rather than a shadow or a pooling of blood) behind the eyes. According to Dr. Zeichner, the sun’s rays can trigger an increase in the production of melanin (a dark brown or black pigment normally found in hair, skin, and eyes), resulting in dark patches under the skin. Consider it similar to the black “sun” spots that form behind your eyes.

How to tell whether this is the cause:
Hyperpigmentation causes dark under-eye circles that are often brown in color. According to Dr. Zeichner, UV radiation exposure appears blotchy, similar to when you develop sunspots.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, sunspots are often flat, dark brown patches that appear on places that are frequently exposed to the sun without protection; they can also be patchy rather than a wash of color.

Another option to see if this is the reason of your dark under-eye circles is to ask your doctor. If the black circles persist after looking in the mirror and tilting your head up toward the light, they’re most likely caused by dark pigments under the eyes (read: those created by hyperpigmentation as a result of UV exposure), according to Dr. Zeichner.

How to deal with it:
For dark circles caused by hyperpigmentation, an eye cream with a brightening component, such as vitamin C, can be helpful. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that protects the skin from free radical damage and prevents the formation of aberrant pigmentation, according to Dr. Zeichner.

Because sun exposure can develop or worsen hyperpigmentation, it’s critical to use sunscreen every day (even around your eyes) to keep your eyes bright and free of bags. (For more information, see Dermatologists Explain How to Apply Eye Cream.)

Genetics

Some people have deeper pigmentation in some places of their face, such as under their eyes, which can make a dark circle appear. Having a hereditary predisposition to this colouring is common. “A disorder known as nevus of Ota occurs when melanocytes (melanin-producing cells) are detected in the dermal layer [middle layer of the skin] and create discolouration,” says Naana Boakye, M.D., dermatologist and founder of Bergen Dermatology in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. While there is no proven etiology for this disorder, evidence suggests that hereditary factors may play a role.

“Another huge issue we encounter with inherited under-eye circles is a shadow caused by a lack of volume,” Dr. Zeichner adds.

How to tell whether this is the cause: Genetics and life combine to create dark rings. Meaning, even if they don’t have allergies or have gotten a good night’s sleep, some people experience persistent darkness. And it’s possible they’ve had it since childhood or adolescence. Dark under-eye circles might grow more visible after a late night at the workplace, a week-long beach vacation, or natural skin aging, even if they’re caused by genetics. What’s the bottom line? Genetics is most likely to blame for any dark spots that persist despite any lifestyle or skin-care modifications you make.

How to deal with it: When it comes to your DNA, there’s not much you can do. While there is no way to prevent dark circles caused by heredity, wearing SPF on a regular basis can help prevent them from getting worse. “Sun protection is essential for everyone, but especially for individuals with hereditary darkening,” says Roberta Del Campo, M.D., a dermatologist at Del Campo Dermatology and Laser Institute and a medical advisor for Babor, a skin-care company.

“Plumping eye lotions with chemicals like hyaluronic acid can also assist,” says Dr. Zeichner, especially if you’re dealing with a lack of volume and, as a result, a shadow.

Rubbing-Induced Irritation

According to Dr. Boakye, the skin surrounding your eyes is extremely thin and sensitive since there is very little fat beneath it. As a result, this thin skin is often the first to show signs of age (wrinkles, dryness, dark circles, etc.) and can even be transparent enough to reveal hidden veins or blood vessels.

According to Dr. Boakye, excessive rubbing of the eyes might result in burst blood vessels or pigment alterations, which can contribute to darkening under the eyes.
“This can be noted [particularly] in patients with eczema or other disorders that induce eyelid skin irritation.”

Dr. Zeichner says, “Chronic rubbing of the eyes too forcefully might promote irritation and pigment formation.”
“This is one of the reasons why it’s crucial to remove your makeup carefully.”
(See also: The Best Cleansing Balms for Removing Grime Without Drying Out Your Skin.)

How to tell whether this is the cause:
According to Dr. Zeichner, pigmentation from touching your eyes is more uniform and covers a bigger area because your fingers are rubbing at your eyes. This type of hyperpigmentation can look as a ring around your upper and lower eyelids and even extend to the tops of your cheeks, almost like a bruise, unlike a dark circle that lies just below your lower lash line.

Stop rubbing your eyes to get rid of it. That concludes the tip.

Loss of Volume or Thin Skin

The skin around your eyes loses its structure as you get older, making your eyes appear sunken.
“Shadowing produced by complexion changes and lack of fullness associated with regular skin aging causes dark circles around the eyes that appear hollow,” adds Dr. Zeichner.
And, because the skin around your eyes is so sensitive at any age, blood vessels can grow more apparent over time, contributing to a darkened appearance, according to Dr. Del Campo.

How to tell whether this is the cause:
Do the black circles look better when you stand in front of a mirror and lift your head toward the light source?
If that’s the case, it’s because the light fills in the shade, which is created by a lack of completeness.
The decrease of volume is most likely the source of your dark under-eye circles.

How to deal with it:
Retinol, a superstar skin-care ingredient that helps restore skin’s suppleness, is a good choice (aka what gives it structure). Dermatologists can also use injectable fillers like Restylane to correct under-eye hollowness in the clinic. Dr. Zeichner notes, “The goal of therapy is to fill the lack of volume and give a smooth transition between the undereye and the cheek.”

Sleep Deprivation

Not getting enough sleep is one of the most common causes of dark circles beneath the eyes.
According to the American Psychological Association, a night of bad sleep raises cortisol levels in the body, which can cause your heart to beat quicker and your blood vessels to enlarge (a process known as vasodilation).
Dr. Del Campo adds that when you’re fatigued, your dark circles are caused by the enlargement of blood vessels near the skin’s surface.

How to tell whether this is the cause:
Dark circles under the eyes caused by blood pooling (and consequently lack of sleep) have a blue to purple-ish colour.
Dr. Zeichner says that they are also more likely to be accompanied by puffiness.

Get more sleep as a treatment.
However, it is sometimes easier said than done.
So, if you’re having trouble sleeping, consider some tried-and-true sleep remedies like listening to soothing music or performing breathing exercises.

Allergies

Due of pollen season’s tendency to take (what appears to be) a shot at your face, dark under-eye circles caused by allergies are frequently referred to as allergy shiners.
The discolouration is usually caused by nasal congestion, regardless of the term.

According to the Mayo Clinic, seasonal allergies frequently cause nasal congestion, which occurs when the tissues and blood vessels in and around the nose become swollen with extra fluid.
According to Dr. Del Campo, blood begins to collect under your eyes, causing the enlarged veins to dilate and darken, resulting in blackness and puffiness.
“This can sometimes be owing to the near proximity of the veins and eye muscles to the surface, which can create discolouration,” Dr. Boakye says.

How to tell whether this is the cause:
Allergy-related dark circles, despite their moniker, are distinct from trauma-related black eyes in that they appear under both eyes.
Due to the extra fluid, they may also be accompanied by puffiness.
And, according to Dr. Boakye, if you look closely in the mirror, you can notice a dark appearance from the fluid beneath the skin.

If you have seasonal allergies, talk to your doctor about the best treatment options, which could include taking an over-the-counter decongestant (such Benadryl or Zyrtec) or getting allergy shots.
In the meanwhile, Dr. Zeichner recommends using an eye cream with caffeine to treat any puffiness.
“Caffeine works by constricting blood vessels, which helps to eliminate extra fluid and reduce puffiness and circles.”

Dehydration

When your body doesn’t get enough water, the skin around your eyes can look dull or sunken, comparable to a hollow appearance caused by volume loss.
It can also become dry, which can amplify any existing discolouration, according to Dr. Boakye.
She also notes that alcohol can “possibly aggravate hyperpigmentation around the eyes,” which makes sense considering how drying it is.

How to tell whether this is the cause:
You can probably blame the liquor (and, of course, any affect your nighttime shenanigans may have had on your sleep) if you woke up with a new set of under-eye circles after a wild night out.
Is there a quick way to figure this out?
Start drinking plenty of water and get some rest the next night – both of these things should assist to lessen any darkness induced by dehydration or lack of sleep.

How to treat it: In addition to increasing your fluid intake, you can treat any hollows under your eyes with a hyaluronic acid-based eye lotion.
According to Dr. Zeichner, this potent substance hydrates and plumps the skin, allowing you to get rid of any dehydration-related under-eye circles for good.

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